Iraq Occupation Focus
Newsletter No. 20
June 06, 2005
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US-led forces Iraq mandate extended
Al-Jazeera (1st June) reports: The UN Security Council has agreed to continue the mandate of the US-led force in Iraq after the Iraqi foreign minister said his government wanted the troops to stay.
The mandate does not expire until the end of the year when Iraq is expected to have a permanent government in place. Baghdad, however, can ask the 140,000 US troops and the 20,000 from 27 other nations to leave before then. But the council on Tuesday, in a review of the operation, agreed the mandate should be continued until the completion of the political process as in its resolution 1546, adopted in May 2003, said Danish Ambassador Ellen Loj, the current council president.
Iraqs Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told the council ... his country still requires help from US-led forces to maintain security. ... The Iraqi minister reaffirmed the transitional governments commitment to finish writing a new constitution by 15 August, put it to a referendum in October, and then hold elections for a constitutionally elected government in December.
Acting US Ambassador Anne Patterson said the new Iraqi government had confronted a harsh security situation, and the US-led force would not leave until the Iraqis can meet the serious security challenges they face.
U.S. offensive around al-Qa'im creates humanitarian crisis and alienates local allies
Tribal leaders rue American involvement
Knight Ridder Newspapers (16th May) reports: When foreign fighters poured into villages with jihad on their minds and weapons in their hands, some Iraqi tribesmen in western desert towns fought back. They set up checkpoints to filter out the foreigners. They burned down suspected insurgent safe houses. They called their fellow tribesmen in Baghdad and other urban areas for backup. And when they still couldnt uproot the terrorists streaming in from Syria, tribal leaders said, they took a most unusual step: They asked the Americans for help.
The U.S. military hails last weeks Operation Matador as a success that killed more than 125 insurgents. But local tribesmen said it was a disaster for their communities and has made them leery of ever again assisting American or Iraqi forces.
In interviews, influential tribal leaders and many residents of the remote border towns said the 1,000 U.S. troops who swept into their territories in the weeklong campaign that ended over the weekend didnt distinguish between the Iraqis who supported the United States and the fighters battling it. The Americans were bombing whole villages and saying they were only after the foreigners, said Fasal al Goud, a former governor of Anbar province who said he asked U.S. forces for help on behalf of the tribes. ...
Operation Matador began with the Marines sweeping into the Qaim area in armored vehicles, backed up by helicopter gunships. They pummelled suspected insurgent safe houses, flattening parts of the villages and killing armed men. When the offensive ended, however, angry residents returned to find blocks of destruction. Men whod stayed behind to help were found dead in shot-up houses.
The US and insurgents just know how to fight but dont look at the mess they are causing in our country.
The New Standard (21st May) reports: Local residents, doctors and relief agencies [said that Operation Matador] ... killed dozens of people, displaced thousands more leaving many without adequate food, shelter or water and flattened scores of buildings.
The Al-Qaim hospital was so badly damaged in the fighting that [hospital director Dr. Hamid] Al-Alousi said doctors have been treating the wounded in makeshift facilities set up in private homes. Due to a lack of medical supplies, Al-Alousi told IRIN News that doctors had to perform more than eleven amputations without the use of anesthetics.
According to IRIN, the United Nations humanitarian news service, the village of Romanna, located about one mile west of Al-Qaim, was particularly hard hit. ... My house was totally destroyed during the attack, and I want to know who will pay for it, Salua Rawi, a resident of Romanna, told IRIN. The US and insurgents just know how to fight but dont look at the mess they are causing in our country. ...
According to the Italian Consortium of Solidarity, a non-governmental aid agency setting up relief efforts in Western Iraq, the events displaced 8,000 people, and 6,000 are presently homeless in the region. The Iraqi Red Crescent Society puts the number of displaced families in and around Al-Qaim at 1,000, according to the BBC. Many of them reportedly fled to schools and mosques in nearby towns, or into the desert where they lack shelter and other basic needs.
U.S. death toll surges amid rebel violence
Reuters (31st May) reports: The death toll for American troops in Iraq rose in May to the highest level since January, with the U.S. military saying on Tuesday insurgents have doubled their number of daily attacks since April. ...
At least 77 U.S. troops were killed in May, according to a count of deaths announced by the military. That is the highest toll since 107 Americans were killed in January. ... Lt. Col. Steve Boylan, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, said insurgents are staging about 70 attacks nationwide per day. ...
The latest Pentagon figures listed 1,658 U.S. military deaths since the war began, with another 12,630 wounded in combat. The United States has 139,000 troops in Iraq, with another 23,000 British and other foreign soldiers. In the recent spike in violence, insurgents also have aggressively targeted Iraqi security forces and civilians. Boylan said more than 600 Iraqis were killed or wounded in May.
Iraqi troops refuse to attend U.S. army training
Reuters (4th June) reports: An Iraqi army unit has been disbanded after it refused to attend a U.S. training course in Baghdad, former members of the unit said on Saturday. The soldiers, part of a 90-strong force called the Defence Force of Rutba, said they had refused to attend training because they feared reprisals from locals if they were seen to have cooperated with the Americans.
We refused to go because we were afraid that when we came back to Rutba we would be killed, Taha Allawi, a former member of the unit, told Reuters. Rutba is in the far west of Iraq, close to the border with Jordan. The people here would believe that we were cooperating with U.S. forces and that is a reason for anyone to be killed. ...
Another former soldier in the force, Ahmed Dhahi, said the disagreement began two months ago when the U.S. military first raised the idea of them attending training in Baghdad. They told us we had no right to refuse, they said the duty of soldiers was to obey orders, but we said We are Iraqis, not Americans, we dont follow orders from Americans, ... Dhahi said that once it became clear that the unit would not attend, the U.S. military took away their weapons, uniforms and identification tags and dismissed the force.
Iraqi units have fled the front line when ordered to fight insurgents before, but it was believed to be the first case of soldiers refusing to attend training for fear of reprisals.
Iraqis face Kafkaesque process to obtain compensation from US
Reuters (3rd May) reports: Statistics on civilian deaths in cross fire or at checkpoints in Iraq are scarce. Any released figures usually refer only to Baghdad and cover limited periods. Marla Ruzicka, a humanitarian-aid worker, campaigned to persuade the U.S. military to keep and release civilian casualty figures and helped persuade Congress to authorize $20 million for families of Iraqi civilians killed by U.S. forces. Ruzicka herself died on April 16 when her car was caught in an insurgent attack. Just before her death, Ruzicka wrote in a report that she had received information from the U.S. military that 29 civilians were killed by small-arms fire in Baghdad alone during firefights between U.S. troops and insurgents between Feb. 28 and April 5.
The United States allows Iraqis to seek compensation for material damage, death or injury, but claims must be due to a non-combat situation and prove wrongful action or negligence. An investigation by the Dayton Daily News in October analyzed 4,611 civil claims in Iraq against the U.S. military and found that three out of four were denied. The average payment for a civilian death was $4,421. In some cases, Iraqis received $2,500 sympathy payments without going through the claims procedure.
The claims process is Kafkaesque in complexity and designed to frustrate most Iraqis, said a joint report in early 2004 by Occupation Watch and the Defense of Human Rights in Iraq, two groups monitoring U.S. military operations. The U.S. militarys definition of a combat situation is elastic and ephemeral, and because the rules of engagement are secret, it is difficult to understand what legal space exists for people to have their cases heard and receive compensation, the report said. Because of the way the compensation system is structured and managed, the American troops have adopted an atmosphere of impunity. Arrogant and violent behavior goes unpunished and continues, they said.
Rice interrupted by enactment of Abu Ghraib abuse
Reuters (27th May) reports: Demonstrators interrupted a speech by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Friday by recreating an image of the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal in which a hooded prisoner stood with his arms outstretched attached to electric wires.
Amid tight security at San Franciscos Davies Symphony Hall, three women and one man pulled on black hoods and cloaks and stood on their seats, acting out the scene caught in one of the photographs of abuse that undermined U.S. prestige abroad. Rice initially continued her speech on American foreign policy under President George W. Bush but paused when the protesters shouted Stop the torture. Stop the killing. U.S. out of Iraq, as police led them out of the auditorium.
Medea Benjamin, one of the protesters, said they were kept in police custody for about an hour and a half and then released with a misdemeanor citation. We feel we made our point, said Benjamin, a founding director of the human rights group Global Exchange.
Privisation and resistance in Iraq
Iraq draws up plan to privatize state-owned firms
The Daily Star, Lebanon (17th May) reports: Iraqs Industry Ministry plans to partially privatize most of its 46 state-owned companies as part of the governments plan to establish a liberal, free-market economy. Later this year, the ministry is expected to launch a search for domestic and foreign partners in the private sector to jointly run companies in the petrochemical, cement, sugar, silk and heavy industry sectors. ...
The new commercial laws established by the Coalition Provisional Authority allow foreigners to own 100 percent of Iraqi businesses the exceptions being those dealing with natural resources such as oil. Iraq has around 200 state-owned enterprises, known as SOEs, and the government wants to partially privatize or completely sell off many of these.
Oil workers in Basra are ready to fight privatisation
The Guardian (3rd June) reports: Last week Basra saw its first conference on the threat of privatisation, bringing together oil workers, academics and international civil-society groups. The event debated an issue about which Iraqis are passionate: the ownership and control of Iraqs oil reserves.
The conference was organised by the General Union of Oil Employees (GUOE), which was established in June 2004 and now has 23,000 members. Focused as much on the broader Iraqi public interest as on members concerns, its first aim was to organise workers to repair oil facilities and bring them back into production during the chaos of the early months of occupation. ...
In August 2003 oil workers unions organised a strike that stopped all production in southern Iraq for two days. The resulting bargaining power has been impressive, with the unions which later merged to become the GUOE successfully pushing for foreign workers to be replaced by Iraqis; the role of US companies in the reconstruction to be reduced; and wages to be raised to liveable levels.
And the GUOE is uncompromising in its views on oil privatisation. As one oil worker told me, he and his colleagues have rebuilt their industry after its destruction in three wars, and in the face of extreme adversity. As a result they have a deep sense of ownership, which they will not willingly relinquish.
Iraqi living standards in worrying decline
Country beset by pollution, disease and malnutrition
UN study shows devastating impact of invasion
The New Standard (18th May) reports: Responses to a detailed survey conducted by a United Nations agency and the Iraqi government indicate that everyday conditions for Iraqis in the aftermath of the 2003 US-led invasion have deteriorated at an alarming rate, with huge numbers of people lacking adequate access to basic services and resources such as clean water, food, health care, electricity, jobs and sanitation. ...
Researchers determined that some 24,000 Iraqis died as a result of the US-led invasion in 2003 and the first year of occupation. Children below the age of 18 comprised 12 percent of those deaths ... the invasion and its immediate aftermath forced more than 140,000 Iraqis to flee their homes.
Data from the survey indicates that 23 percent of children between six months and five years suffer from chronic malnutrition, while 12 percent suffer from general malnutrition, and 8 percent experience acute malnutrition. ...
Years of sanctions and war have also had a major negative impact on Iraqs health care system, once considered among the best in the Middle East, authors of the survey observe. The list of current major problems includes lack of health personnel, lack of medicines, non-functioning medical equipment and destroyed hospitals and health centers. ...
In comparison with earlier statistics from Iraq on key measures of daily living conditions such as reliability of electrical service, access to safe drinking water and sanitation systems and access to health care the report concludes that an alarming deterioration in the indicators is apparent.
Cholera outbreak feared
IRIN report (25th May) reports: Health experts in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, warned of a possible cholera outbreak this summer, saying they have seen an increase in cases so far this year and called for urgent action to prevent it from spreading.
Dr Duraid al-Khatoon, a paediatrician at the Childrens Teaching Hospital in the capital, told IRIN that as of January 2005 at least one case of cholera in children has been reported every day and that 90 percent of the cases were living in suburbs where sewage treatment is non-existent. He added that last year less than 10 cases were reported by the hospital monthly, representing a three-fold increase in the disease.
Postwar Iraq paying heavy environmental price
Reuters (2nd June) reports: Iraqs environmental problems among the worlds worst range from a looted nuclear site which needs cleaning up to sabotaged oil pipelines, a U.N. official said on Thursday.
An improvement is almost impossible in these security conditions. Chemicals are seeping into groundwater and the situation is becoming worse and creating additional health problems, said Pekka Haavisto, Iraq task force chairman at the United Nations Environmental Programme. Iraq is the worst case we have assessed and is difficult to compare. ...
The situation became worse after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, in which depleted uranium munitions were used against Iraq for the second time and postwar looting and burning of the once formidable infrastructure caused massive spills and toxic plumes, Haavisto said. ... There has not been proper cleanup and only assessment work at some of these sites. ...
In the Dora depot on the edge of Baghdad, 5,000 barrels of chemicals, including tetra ethylene lead, were spilled burned or stolen, a U.N. survey showed. Contaminated sites near the water supply also include a 200 square km (77 sq mile) military industrial complex, torched or looted cement factories and fertilizer plants, of which Iraq was one of the world's largest producers, and oil spills.
11 British soldiers face charges over Iraq death
The Guardian (30th May) reports: The father of Baha Mousa, the Iraqi hotel receptionist who died in British custody, told yesterday of the heartbreak that the death had brought to his family, and applauded reports that up to 11 soldiers could face prosecution under international war crimes legislation. ...
A father of two young boys, Mr Mousa, 26, died three days after his arrest in the southern port city of Basra in September 2003. He appeared to have been beaten to death, succumbing to heart failure and asphyxia. Colleagues arrested with him said soldiers used them as targets in a kickboxing competition.
His death led to the single largest investigation into prisoner abuse by British troops in Iraq. It emerged yesterday that up to 11 members of the Queens Lancashire Regiment could be charged under war crimes legislation enacted in 2001 after the establishment of the international criminal court. The soldiers would face trial in the UK under the ICC act. ...
Mr [Daoud] Mousa has lobbied for almost two years to bring those responsible for his sons death to justice.
Mercenaries in the line of fire
Agence France-Presse (12th May) reports: Day rates peaking at $1,000 quickly turned post-Saddam Hussein Iraq into a modern gold rush for private security firms, but a growing number of hired guns are paying the price in blood. ...
According to the Interior Ministry, there may be 50,000 private security contractors in the war-torn country. Estimates vary on the proportion of foreigners, but with anything between 12,000 and 20,000 men, they are the U.S.-led coalitions second largest armed contingent, easily outnumbering British troops. ...
According to Iraq Coalition Casualties, an independent Web site that tracks deaths in the war-torn country, 234 foreign contractors have been killed and accounted for since the March 2003 invasion. But several sources in the private security industry admit that many deadly attacks probably have remained unreported. ... Unprecedented outsourcing has allowed the U.S. military to ease the pressure on troops already stretched by several wars and is seen as a way of keeping body bags away from the public eye. ...
In one of the last decrees issued by the former top U.S. administrator, L. Paul Bremer 3rd, in June 2004, private security contractors working with the Americans and the U.S.-backed Iraqi government were granted immunity from prosecution.
At least 8,000 looted treasures still untraced
The Independent (24 May) reports: Evidence of how quickly and irretrievably a country can be stripped of its cultural heritage came with the Iraq war in 2003.
The latest figures, presented to the art crime conference by John Curtis of the British Museum, suggested that half of the 40 iconic items from the Iraq National Museum in Baghdad still had not been retrieved. And of at least 15,000 items looted from its storerooms, about 8,000 have yet to be traced.
About 4,000 of the objects taken from the museum had been recovered in Iraq. But illustrating the international demand for such antiquities, Dr Curtis said around 1,000 had been confiscated in the US, 500 pieces had been impounded in France, 250 in Switzerland and 200 or so in Jordan.
Random checks on Western soldiers leaving the area had found some in illegal possession of ancient artefacts.
NEW ANTI-WAR FILM AVAILABLE ON DVD
Recently premiered at a sell-out screening at the Barbican with John Pilger,
A Letter to the Prime Minister: Jo Wildings Diary From Iraq (Julia Guest, Year Zero Films, 2005) is now available on DVD.
The 70 minute film offers a unique perspective on the invasion and occupation of Iraq, following international activist Jo Wilding on her remarkable journeys to Iraq in 2003/2004: as an eyewitness to the invasion itself; as co-founder of Circus to Iraq; and as an ad hoc medical volunteer in Fallujah during the first major US assault on the city in April 2004.
Copies of the film can be purchased online at www.alettertotheprimeminister.co.uk or via Voices UK for £18 incl. p&p. (cheques should be made payable to "Voices in the Wilderness UK" and mailed to: Voices UK, 5 Caledonian Road, London N1 9DX).
The director is happy for it to be used for non-profit screenings by peace and anti-war groups but please contact her at email@example.com if you want to organise a commercial screening in your area.
Next Iraq Occupation Focus Meeting
Tuesday 14th June
Iraq Occupation Focus monthly meeting
7:30pm, Indian YMCA, 41 Fitzroy Square
London W1T 6AQ (nearest tube: Warren Street)
SAT 11th JUNE, BRIGHTON: NATIONAL DEMO. OUTSIDE EDO
An arms components company that makes bomb parts that were used in the Iraq war (Guardian, 11 April). EDO has been attempting thus far without success to get an injunction against local activists, creating an exclusion zone around the factory where protests would only be allowed on Thursday afternoons for two hours with a maximum of 10 silent protestors. See www.smashedo.org.uk for more info.
SAT 11th JUNE, SHEFFIELD: MARCH FOR PEACE AND JUSTICE
to coincide with the meeting of the G8 Justice and Interior Ministers in the city. Meet 10.30am, Devonshire Green, Sheffield City Centre. Rally at the Peace in the Park. Festival at 12.30 with Matin Mubanga (former Guantanamo Bay prisoner). Called by Sheffield STWC. 07761-471-441 or www.sheffieldagainstwar.org.uk
SAT 18th JUNE, LONDON: NONVIOLENT DIRECT ACTION TRAINING WORKSHOP FOR THE G8 & BEYOND
with Anna Jones (CAAT) and Joss Garman (Trident Ploughshares). 11am4pm. SOAS Post-Graduate Common Room, SOAS, Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, WC1H 0XG. Meet at 10.45am, on the steps outside SOAS.
WED 29th JUNE, LONDON: STOP THE PLUNDER OF IRAQS OIL!
Protest outside Iraqi Petroleum Conference 2005, 10.30am, 29 June, The Hilton, Paddington. Organised by the Corporate Pirates and supported by Iraq Occupation Focus and Voices UK. See www.radicalactivist.net/corporateiraq.shtml or 07810 867 476 for more info.
SAT 2nd FRI 8th JULY, SCOTLAND: ACTIONS & EVENTS SURROUNDING THE G8 SUMMIT
Actions include: Sat 2nd July: Make Poverty History march in Edinburgh, meet 11am in The Meadows (www.makepovertyhistory.org) followed by Stop the War Coalition rally in the evening (www.stopwar.org.uk or 020 7278 6694).
Sat 3rd July: Naming the Dead ceremony in Edinburgh, organised by the Stop the War Coalition. Mon 4th July: Mass blockade of Faslane nuclear submarine base, organised by Scottish CND and Trident Ploughshares. See www.faslaneg8.com for details, including legal briefing and info on transport and accommodation. The latter is also available upon request from the Voices office: 0845 458 2564 or www.voicesuk.org. Wed 6th July: International Day of Action Against the G8, including public blockades of the delegates as they arrive. See www.dissent.org.uk for more info.
Winning entry from IOF poetry competition
Towards the end of 2004, Iraq Occupation Focus ran a poetry competition on the theme of war and occupation, in association with Red Pepper. the six prize-winning entries, selected by judge Adrian Mitchell, are being published in this newsletter. All winning and commended poems are also available on our website.
JOINT THIRD PRIZE (4 of 4)
A wood in Somerset, Iraq
Stone still in opalescent air
trees wait supportively.
Light splinters on new leaves.
Sun for the seventh day
blesses an English spring.
Two thousand lives away
this anticyclone fires up a storm
that drowns a nightmare world
in ochre light.
The peace I feel
leaning against the powerful fist
that grips the earth, cushioned with moss,
back shaped, kind as an elephant,
finds its reflection in a furious world
of men who sleep walk,
fall on their mothers skin,
give screaming fire,
act and react,
but cannot take it in.
While birdsong fills my head,
sharp as the sunlight
sparking on those tiny points of green.
One hammer headed woodpecker,
knowing no better and no worse,
fires off his rounds.
I should be suffering,
but the world is folded at my side,
its front page images of death
have left off stirring
in this gentle air.